Review- The Beast Side: Living (And Dying) While Black in America by D. Watkins

In this collection of essays, D. Watkins discusses everything from his childhood in Baltimore, Maryland to the murder of Freddie Gray, and finally touches on the election of 2016 and what it showed Black Americans about how the country saw them. D covers immense ground in his essays, pointing out that educated as he may be his start was just as rocky as his peers’ from Baltimore, and education won’t keep him from being shot by a racist cop. He talks about all the things that are slowly killing Black Americans and what he and others have been doing to combat this. He talks about grief, suffering, sadness, pain, but also touches on some of the hope and perseverance that he’s seen in his world.


What is The Beast Side about?

The Beast Side is about what it’s like to be a Black man in Baltimore, Maryland. It’s about the pain, the racism, the police brutality, the outrage, and the other factors that bring down so many lives there. D. talks about how everything from the defunding of public schools and illiteracy to the food desert and the lack of healthy options is strangling his community. He demonstrates how the police system corrupts everyone within it and touches on how well-meaning white people can still make the system more racist and more powerful.

Genre: Collection of Essays

You’ll notice while reading this collection that sometimes essays repeat themselves. I think this is because some of these essays were written for individual publication, or at least were originally written and/or posted elsewhere.

Themes: Police brutality, racism, school to prison pipeline

D. Watkins regularly returns to these facts of life in Baltimore. He points out that he skipped the school to prison pipeline and made it to become a teacher himself, but he still risks death in every encounter with a police officer. He points out the ways the system do not want Black people to succeed, and doesn’t shy away from the fear that this puts into everyone he knows.

The Good

This is a very honest book full of essays that are eloquent, but also give voices to those that don’t have access to the kind of resources we as book bloggers do. D. Watkins regularly returns to the way illiteracy enforces systemic racism. He addresses the inequality that de facto segregation has created in Baltimore, and all over the United States. Black neighborhoods lack funding, Black schools lack motivated teachers and resources, and Black streets are patrolled by racist police officers looking to pad their arrest records. D. brings up how having access to unhealthy food leads to early deaths, and how lacking role models leaves Black kids like himself with nowhere to go–especially when their other options pay well, put food on the table, and keep their families alive. Even when Black kids and young adults make it to college, make it to Watkins’ own classes, he tells them how likely they are to meet the ends of their lives in front of a cop’s gun. The reality that D. Watkins writes about is very real, and very visible.

The Okay

I don’t really have any critique but I do have content warnings. CW for discussion of systemic racism, gun violence, drug abuse, alcohol abuse, death, violence, police brutality, derogatory language, and related topics. As a white person, I believe that it is important for me to be uncomfortable while reading about these topics but I know there are those in the book blogging community, especially Black readers, that could be harmed by reading the contents of this book.

Final Thoughts

While clearly an American-centric view of systemic and practical racism against Black people, this book does dig deep into the implications of that racism and what it functionally does to Black people in society. Addressing topics of guns, drug deals, lack of funding for schools, alcohol and drug abuse, illiteracy, and even unhealthy food as ways of pushing segregation, D. Watkins brings out the world that he grew up in, the Baltimore he knew. With several essays inspired by the death of Freddie Gray, D. Watkins also repeatedly reminds the readers that Black men are targets. He reminds us that it doesn’t matter how eloquent, well dressed, or educated he may be; he is still a Black man in the US. There is no way to get ahead of systemic racism, it must be abolished.

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By Catherine

I'm a lover of books, coffee, wine, and bees. Happy to join the ranks of book bloggers everywhere!

2 replies on “Review- The Beast Side: Living (And Dying) While Black in America by D. Watkins”

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